Agency marks 90 years of service to Eastern churches, humanitarian aid
14 Mar 2017 By Beth Griffin
An “invisible” Catholic organization celebrated 90 years of quiet service to the poor in the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said the agency maintains a low profile because it works through and with the local church.
“They know best how to represent the face of Christ. We trust their experience, holiness and knowledge about how to govern and care for their people,” he said in a 28 February interview with Catholic News Service.
The mission of the organization is to serve and accompany Eastern Catholic churches in pastoral and humanitarian activities, generally at the level of the diocese or eparchy, Msgr. Kozar said. A secondary mission is to share the needs of the Eastern churches with people in North America who may be confused about where Eastern churches fit in the larger Catholic picture.
Eastern Catholic churches have their origins in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India or northeast Africa; have distinctive liturgical and legal systems; and are often identified by the national or ethnic character of their region of origin. Members of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches enjoy the same dignity, rights and obligations as members of the Latin Church.
Msgr. Kozar said people in North America have little exposure to Eastern churches and he takes it in stride when asked if Eastern Catholics are “really Catholic” and if they are under the authority of Pope Francis. “I say, ‘Yes! We are one church with two very enriching traditions, Latin and Eastern.’”
He said Eastern Catholic churches are typically smaller than Latin churches. Many have deep historic roots and are in areas of suffering and religious persecution.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association was founded in 1926 in response to a request by Pope Pius XI to unite all American Catholic organizations providing aid to Russia and the Near East. Near East is an imprecise geographic term that encompasses southwest Asia and the Arabian Peninsula.
As a papal organization, it has a mandate from the Vatican to support the Eastern Catholic Church. Another mandate of the agency is to work for union among Catholic and non-Catholic Eastern churches, including the Orthodox churches.
In recent years, the association spent approximately $22 million annually on assistance in 14 countries.
The abiding challenge is with refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East, especially Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Msgr. Kozar said. Access in Syria has been sharply limited because of the ongoing conflict, but the organization is still helping the local churches provide milk, bedding, diapers and antibiotics to their people.
“There are heroic priests, sisters and bishops who never left. Some Catholics and other Christians have been hunkered down for more than five years,” he said.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association also is active in areas where the church has experienced persecution and retribution, such as Egypt. In one town, the agency funded the repair of a section of a burned-out orphanage so the sisters living there could continue to care for 15 children. The orphanage was one of 55 church properties damaged in anti-Christian violence during 2013.